Sins of Omission

Music That Stirs the Soul

A favorite time for me at John Randolph Club annual meetings is the songfest.  Invariably, there is someone in attendance who can sit down at the piano and play all the great, old American tunes that were once familiar to several generations of Americans.  The melodies stir my soul.  The accompanying lyrics evoke memories of the things that made us a people.  Feeling the music and listening to the songs makes me feel, well, American.

During the last couple of decades, though, I’ve come to realize that most young Americans today are unfamiliar with what I thought were folk classics absorbed by every American by the age of eight or nine.  Some of this is a consequence of the demise of music programs in public schools, and some the result of movies using traditional folk tunes less and less.

Think of any John Ford movie.  In Stagecoach (1939) we hear “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie,” “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” “Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair,” “The Battle-Cry of Freedom,” “Little Joe the Wrangler,” “Gentle Annie,” and “Lily Dale.”  In My Darling Clementine (1946) we hear the song of the same name as well as “Red River Valley,” “Buffalo Gals,” “Camptown Races,” “Nellie Bly,” “Little Brown Jug,”...

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